2008 was supposed to be a breakout year for the Jacksonville Jaguars. In the previous season, the Jags won their first playoff game since 1999. The most glaring weakness from the '07 team was the lack of a pass rush, which killed the team in its playoff loss against New England.
In an effort to remedy this problem, the team drafted Derrick Harvey and Quentin Groves with its first two picks in the 2008 NFL Draft. Those moves were supposed to put Jacksonville over the top in 2008.
But the loss of Marcus Stroud, coupled with injuries to center Brad Meester and guards Vince Manuwai and Maurice Williams, combined to make 2008 a disappointing campaign. Honestly, I don't think 2009 will be much better.
Jacksonville did have a solid draft, and getting Eugene Munroe and Eben Britton with the first two picks was smart. With all the injuries suffered by the offensive line last year, the team wanted to make sure depth on the OL would not be an issue.
Picking up veteran OT Tra Thomas was an excellent acquisition. He is a consummate professional and will definitely help nurture the young guys and get them ready for the NFL grind. There is no question that the offensive line will be better next year.
But the offense still has some glaring issues. In his first three years in the league, Maurice Jones-Drew has given the team incredible production, more than anyone (except himself, of course) could have expected out of the second-round pick.
This year is a completely different issue, because now, MJD is the man.
Before this year, Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor shared the load when it came to toting the ball. Now, Taylor is in New England (don't be surprised if he has a fantastic year), and Jacksonville's backup running back is projected to be Chauncey Washington, an unproven RB who carried the ball exactly four times last year.
What makes MJD so unique is the way he runs the ball. Even though he's only 5-foot-7, he punishes defenders with a bruising running style. You would think he would try to avoid contact, but he seems to relish lowering the boom on whoever crosses his path.
Here's the problem. Jones-Drew never carried the ball more than 23 times in a game last year. As the feature back, and assuming Head Coach Jack Del Rio wants to get back to the dominant running game that was so successful in 2007, MJD will probably be expected to carry the ball 30-plus times a game.
Will he be able to handle all that punishment for an entire season? I have a bad feeling that Jones-Drew will start to break down midway through the year, and at that point, fans will realize how much they miss Freddy T.
The other issue with the offense is still the passing game. Picking up Torry Holt in free agency was a great get, but Holt is definitely on the downside of his career.
Last year, he had his worst numbers (64 catches, 796 yards, three touchdowns) since his rookie season in 1999. There is no question that he is the most talented and accomplished receiver on Jacksonville's roster, but I think that's more of an indictment on Jacksonville's receiving corps than a compliment to Holt.
Just when Matt Jones finally looked like he had figured everything out, he made a stupid mistake while on probation and the team decided enough was enough, cutting ties with the troubled receiver.
It was a shame too, because Jones posted career numbers and team highs in receptions (65) and yards (761). Quarterback David Garrard clearly trusted Jones and had built a good rapport with him on the field.
Now Garrard will have to find a go-to receiver elsewhere. The Jaguars did draft three wide receivers, but I doubt that Mike Thomas, Jarrett Dillard or Tiquan Underwood will have an immediate impact.
Even with all the woes on offense, I think Jacksonville's biggest problem last year was the defense. Part of the reason for this was a philosophical clash between defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and Del Rio.
Williams loves to call blitzes and employ an attacking scheme, but it has been reported that Del Rio put the handcuffs on Williams. The result was a defense that struggled to put pressure on the quarterback and consistently gave up big chunks of yardage.
Mel Tucker is the new D coordinator, but it sounds like Del Rio will take a much more pronounced role with the defense this year.
The bigger issue on defense was the loss of Stroud. When John Henderson and Stroud played alongside each other, teams couldn't run on Jacksonville. The duo anchored the defense, and created a reputation for being a nasty, physical defense.
Without Stroud, the Jaguars didn't have a defensive tackle who could command that kind of respect. Henderson wasn't nearly as effective, and opposing offenses were able to run the ball on Jacksonville with relative ease.
Unfortunately for Jaguar fans, the team did little to address that glaring need in the off-season. That means Rob Meier and Derek Landri will try to take the pressure off Henderson. It didn't work very well last year, so I don't anticipate that it will work well this year.
Jacksonville drafted DT Terrance Knighton in the round round, so maybe he will be the answer. The defense will continue to struggle if Groves and Harvey can't put pressure on the quarterback.
Harvey got a late start to his 2008 season because of a lengthy holdout, but did have 3.5 sacks in the final eight games. Many pundits believe Harvey will have a breakout 2009 season.
At the end of the day, I believe Jacksonville still has too many holes to be a playoff team in 2009. The team is moving in the right direction, but it will take at least one more year to get back in the playoff picture.